A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of traveling to New Orleans, Louisiana for the 2017 NEWHAB + EEFA Annual Convening. NEWHAB, or the Network for Energy, Water, and Health in Affordable Buildings, is a national social impact network that works closely with the Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA) project—including our own Minnesota Multifamily Affordable Housing Energy Network (MMAHEN)—to expand healthy and efficient housing for all by leveraging the relationships between individuals, sectors, and policies.
A city that has struggled with racial and socioeconomic disparities, especially in the years since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans served as a gripping and poignant backdrop for our conversations throughout the week. We even had the opportunity to get out of the meeting space and tour various parts of the city. These tours took us everywhere from New Orleans East, where we saw neighborhoods embracing solar energy to power their homes, to Columbia Parc, where a once- dilapidated public housing complex has been redeveloped into a new residential community, with priority given to families that had previously been residents of public housing.
Throughout the meeting, several main themes emerged from our discussions. We talked about the importance of keeping major federal programs that help maintain affordable housing and weatherize aging housing stock to make homes more comfortable and energy efficient. We also recognized the principle of “energy equity,” which states that access to comfortable, efficient housing is a human right.
The NEWHAB + EEFA Annual Convening served as an important reminder that people are at the center of every policy and program that we work on. Under-resourced families have the most to gain from deeper investments in affordable housing, since those families often spend up to three times more of their income on energy compared to the average household.
But even more importantly, under-resourced individuals have a right to a seat at the same table as advocates, implementers, and decision-makers. Their voices are critical to ensure that policies and programs are actually benefitting the people they are intended to serve. MMAHEN is grateful to have the participation of renter advocate groups Community Stabilization Project and Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia in our network, and we will continue to work with them and other stakeholders to ensure that renters and tenants have equitable access to affordable and energy efficient housing throughout Minnesota.